Saturday, April 17, 2010

Subtle Sustainability

Sometimes I am afraid that I have become too comfortable in Norwegian, as I begin to realize all that I have been taking for granted which is going on around me. For instance, I have realized there are a whole host of sustainable (and sometimes not completely sustainable but interesting) implementations and infrastructure here which I use on a daily basis, but have yet to share with many potentially interested parties back home. The more I have thought about it recently, the more bits come to mind, so I thought I'd share a bit of a list of sustainability related 'facts' I have come across in the past 8 or so months here.

*Disclaimer - many of these simply were derived from casual conversation and I have not done all the background research, so the range of specific accuracy may vary here.

One big one, which I was reminded of by a news article referring to Denmark - but Trondheim burns its trash for electricity and heat. The District Heating System is pretty interesting and quite large - covering (at minimum) the heat of all municipal buildings in the city. This is greatly minimizing the ventilation requirements of included buildings. Many buildings I've encountered (including my student apartment building) operate via passive/natural ventilation.

Some side notes with this... By trash, I mean 'avfall', or items not recycled in paper/plastic/glass/metal. I have further heard that all packaging plastic allowed in Norway is required to be of a certain compound which can be burned without releasing toxins into the air.

Also, building demolition and construction waste is highly regulated in Norway - 60% of materials removed from buildings are required to be reused or diverted from landfill, and localities commonly have centers for building material reuse/resale. These centers often employ people for sorting and cleaning materials on an hourly basis, creating laborious, but paying jobs for those with drug addictions and other problems hindering regular work.

Norway produces more electricity through hydropower than they use on an yearly basis. While commendable, there is a small catch to this.. Through the summers, a great surplus of energy is produced and exported through Northern Europe, but hydropower cannot be produced in the winter months, when rivers have frozen over. It is also during the winter that Norway consumes the most electricity for heating - this is purchased back from, sometimes unclean, sources in continental Europe. I have heard that in the 1980s or early 1990s, an ad campaign ran on the national television station actually encouraging Norwegians to use more electricity, because it is clean. The other concerning downside to this is that many appliances here, heaters and stoves in particular, run off of electricity, which is less than efficient.

To be fair, the (very progressive) building code in Norway is forcing incredible amounts of insulation and high R-values, and has planned for zero-emission buildings level requirements for the near future.

I am sure there is plenty more which will come to mind to be shared later.. But today, in the shadow of clouds of volcanic ash, one must recognize the shear power of nature - with or without humans and their destructive habits. I'm finding the flight groundings a bit refreshing in an ironic way.. The last time this Icelandic volcano erupted in the 1800s, it kept going for a full year - I cannot personally remember the last time in my life I went an entire year without taking a fuel guzzling flight, just imagine the environmental implications of grounding entire countries for any period of time.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Snow Melts, the Ground Thaws

Last Fall's farmer's furrows froze. The spring snow's gradual melting again reveals the geometry of cultivated landscape over central Norway. With the reappearance of field demarcations, the land returns to its seasonal status as a venue for privatized production.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

An Awareness of the Environment

Last week, I took the opportunity to join a family on a very Norwegian Easter holiday up north near where the arctic circle passes through the country. We skied and picnicked through remoteness, often with very little sign of fellow skiers or concept of land ownership and boundaries. It was the most true experience I have found of Allemannsretten, and leads me to a better understanding of the relationship between Norwegian culture and the environment.

The Scandinavian Easter is about the sun. It is an important holiday period marking the end of winter darkness and celebrating longer days. And the days are noticeably longer - where I was, around 66 degrees latitude, a slight glow from the sun still remained over the nearby mountain ridges at 9:00pm. What is more, the Easter week is one of the first times when one can feel full radiation from the sun, after many months of only seeing glimpses of it from shallow angles.

My hosts from Rana introduced me to many Easter traditions, and thinking back, it is impressing how many of them are related to the sun and environment in general. Skiing is a major activity, as even so far north, they are approaching the last month of skiing. Beyond recreation, skiing becomes a form of transportation in and of itself, allowing people to reach places beyond car and utility access - pristine nature. It is also the best weather for outdoor activity, as the temperatures creep above freezing, and the sunlight makes spending hours outside very pleasant, even without multiple layers of clothing.

Sunbathing and outdoor picnicking is probably a close second to skiing over Easter. Families ski for hours and then search out perfect spots in the wintry landscape. The goal is to find a large rock or mound that can shelter any wind, then make camp on the sunny face - taking advantage of the natural heat. When at a lack for an ideal spot, it is not uncommon for Norwegians to dig their own. Carrying a shovel (and often a compass) on any trip - the ability to dig a few feet into a snow bank and create a leeward, sun facing bench comes naturally to those making ski tours. Any chance to be outdoors was seized and celebrated.

I was greatly impressed to be able to comfortably spend so much time outdoors in such a climate.